The 2020-2021 school year is completed. The “unprecedented year like no other” is finally over. This school year and the workload has impacted all of us. The impact maybe in different ways, but probably includes impacts upon leaders such as:
A. Decision Fatigue – The constant changing health guidelines and mandates caused leaders to continually have to communicate to staff and families updates with changing plans on a weekly and possibly daily basis.
B. Emotional Exhaustion – Leaders had to deal with many more emotions this year including caring for staff/students due to COVID, hearing from upset students, staff and parents about decisions that were made and then the frustration when contract tracing was needed and having to send students home. Factor in then the typical decisions of running a school and striving to find new solutions to zoom attendance issues, how to help struggling learners, equity issues etc…All of these decisions were outside of our control but yet were made within our job responsibilities.
C. Time spent on Management vs Leadership – Leaders work in schools to help develop others, share a united vision and make changes that improve the organization. However, due to COVID and factors #1-2 listed above, a significant amount of a leader’s time this year was spent on management topics like schedules, instructional practices for virtual-distance learning-hybrid-in person and safety practices and the large amount of time with contract tracing. Management has always been a part of leadership, but when it is the majority of the role it can impact how a leader functions and the movement that is made for school improvement.
D. Being on 24/7 – Many staff, students and families didn’t know who to reach out to for guidance or when they were frustrated, so they would reach out to school leaders at all times every day of the week. Due to the nature of COVID, the urgency of each situation was real and caused leaders to feel like they always “had to be on”and checking email, phone and messages and responding to those they serve on a timely basis. The nature of the COVID mitigation measures did make many of these messages urgent as it impacted not just 1 individual but many so leaders would be working at a more frequent level on weekends/evenings than before. In addition, the social and emotional impact upon students and staff also caused leaders to know that they had to do more now than ever to check on others who may be struggling with anxiety, depression and feeling overwhelmed. Leaders felt compelled to support others; they had to do more and at all times of the day, week and school year.
We all can understand why these items occurred with COVID, but the significance of the impact upon a leader and their role was significant. It impacted their leadership of others and in some cases may have impacted the trajectory of a leader’s role and those they serve within the school community. Very few practicing school leaders have had the external support, resources, time, and feedback to focus on their own professional and personal growth. In fact, research shows that 42 percent of principals surveyed indicated they were considering leaving their position (NASSP. EPI) due to these constraints. Among the most common reasons they cite are:
· Working Conditions
· Compensation and Financial Obligations
· High-Stakes Accountability Systems and Evaluation Practices
· Lack of Decision making Authority
· Inadequate Access to Professional Learning Opportunities (NASSP. EPI. 2021).
With all of this impact, the question becomes “Are you ready to throw in the towel”? If 42 percent of leaders want to leave their positions, that turnover is not going to help the school systems develop a stronger focus on learning. Turnover is going to chip away at the very foundation of our schools and impact further leadership growth.
As I reflect upon my own school year, it was a hard year. In fact, it may have had moments where I did wonder what the end of the school year would look like and how could we support each other to get there? In those moments, I often reflected back to my purpose of supporting others and asked myself “how can I help inspire others to grow and support each other” and “how can I help us focus on what we can control and not the external distractions”? I reminded myself that being a leader is needed most during times of distress and this year was most definitely a time when leaders were needed. As I reflect, I hope no leaders throw in the towel on their leadership journey due to this year as it was so different and challenging. I hope leaders remember that we always can make an impact. At the forefront of being a transformational leader is finding ways to be a positive change agent. I reassured myself that anyone can be a transformational leader if they:
- Learn and live good values
- Value the people they work with and their strengths
- Collaborate with others to create a strong collective team
In this blog post, I want to share critical aspects of transformational leadership that will allow anyone to support the growth of others and this starts with your own personal and professional growth. I hope that this blog post helps to remind all of us that despite a very challenging year, we must continue to focus on moving forward and our efforts to positively impact others and not throw in the towel on the most rewarding profession. To maximize your influence and have significant impact for and with others, the following are components for transformational leadership and ones I encourage you to embed as part of your work:
- You must have urgency and patience in the work.
- The urgency means you are committed to making the effort to help others.
Steve Jobs has shared that “people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are usually the ones who do.” Anyone can dream but transformational leaders understand that you must put dreams into a reality and this starts with having the desire and urgency to act.
- The patience means we must understand results take time, even more so during a pandemic.
Leaders who are transformational leaders recognize the importance of action as we influence others the most when we lead by what we model. But we must also be patient as that patience allows great insight and the process of the work to take form. “You can go fast alone or you can go far together”; that phrase reminds me of the importance of patience.
When we are patient, it allows the leader to:
- Look back and be grateful
- Look ahead and be hopeful
- Look around and be helpful
All of this involves great introspection and reflection. Patience is one of the hardest components for leaders as they see the importance of urgency but recognize the impact will only be significant and sustained if it involves others and a shared vision. This takes time.
- Own your failures to learn and inspire future change.
- When you reflect and recognize your failures it allows you to gain more self awareness of your strengths and how your limits need to be addressed so the next opportunity has a different outcome. Sharing your failures with others also demonstrates vulnerability and builds trust with others. During challenges is when leaders are needed most and their trust with others is most revealed.
- Empower others to join your efforts
- You can make an impact by yourself but it will always be much greater if you work together with others and have a combined effort. Empowering others to join your work not only increases their significance but allows you to grow as a level 5 leader by level of influence.
- To empower others, they must first see you as competent and with high character. This is built and demonstrated with your daily habits. If you demonstrate through your work that you care about the “we” and not the “me” it will resonate with others. When you lead with humility and make decisions that reflect great integrity and moral compass, it allows others to feel a sense of collective responsibility and greater ownership for them to join the cause.
- Start small, celebrate the wins and have the real conversations
- Any change can happen but to sustain it over time it is very important leaders celebrate the wins along the way that reflect the purpose of the work. No win is too small as we must keep our focus on the right work and help others feel validated for their efforts to the collective vision.
- Your efforts to make transformational change doesn’t have to be a grand opening ceremony or a massive roll out. In fact, it is most successful when it involves a few key people who embrace the same approach, have the same dedication and desire to make positive change. If each person strives to help others then the impact will be a ten fold approach and build over time.
- There are times when others may not be on the same pages as you or your team for the shared vision. In those instances, it is important to have the necessary real and authentic conversations that revolve around:
- Why do we exist in our school organization?
- What is our shared purpose?
- How have you worked towards that purpose?
- Can you commit to our standards of excellence?
- How can I help you get the support you need so you feel validated and maximized to support our efforts?
For every educator and leader, adversity is a constant reality. There is a lack of time, not enough resources, outdated facilities, resistant staff, and unforeseen obstacles. Leaders recognize that to start the shift towards transformational change, we cannot get caught up in what is wrong but focus our efforts and mindset on how we can transform those around us to inspire a collective change. The transformational shift is really transforming learning cultures by creating collaborative responsibility for taking action to reach collective goals. Transformational leaders focus on creating positive change and this occurs with intentional efforts that meet the needs of the people. The leadership provides the groundwork for others to provide greater focus to their work moving forward and keeps everyone “rowing the boat in the same direction”. Leaders must continually identify how to see the current reality and prioritize how to be efficient and effective. It is never too late to change or adapt to create something better. We owe that to our students and staff that we serve. I encourage you to reflect and better understand that you are not ready to throw in the towel but instead refocus your mindset and efforts by considering the 4 strategies mentioned above. Comment below or reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org